Nobel Museum: How Free is Free?

yttrandefrihetsbildliten8 March 2009, Nobel Museum, Stockholm.

There is a fascinating exhibition at the Nobel Museum, titled Freedom of Expression. The number of people condemned, imprisoned, ostracized, punished and even killed for crossing the line is shocking, beyond belief. Freedom of expression is supposed to be a human right and is a condition of democracy. Why is that such a large degree of censorship and oppression exists? Those who have revealed state ‘secrets’ in pursuance of peace, those challenging the status quo, those who attack subjects that are considered taboo… In politics, environmentalism and journalism, or in the arts… in music, in video games (Postal Art, a game that got banned. Rightly so – you could stalk, torture and urinate on your enemies and passer-bys!), in visual arts, in literature…it’s everywhere. Thousands, if not millions of cases across the board, many familiar i.e. Salman Rushdie, Anna Politkovskaja, Aung San Suu Kyi…but even more unfamiliar.

Such as Nitinsky (sp?) who revealed the dangers of toxic waste in ex-submarines – a fire could release more radioactive waste than the Chernobyl accident. He got arrested for disclosing this information, and only 10 years later, acquitted (a rare case though). The film director Theo van Gogh of Submission (a 10 minute film that looks into how three verses of the Koran authorizes the mistreatment of women) got shot and even until today, police are protecting the scriptwriter.

Censorship on the web – most famously, China’s great firewall. But did you know that YouTube got shut down for a day in Thailand when someone posted up a mocking video of the Thai King? And also in Turkey. Oh and China even censored the Nobel Prize Ceremony airing on TV! One of the speeches made mentioned this particular exhibit and China censored that particular section out. Isn’t that hilarious… sigh.

But then on the flip side, people, groups and societies at times do cross the boundaries of what the freedom of expression should entail.

A fascinating museum. Nobel is the man who invented dynamite (ironic!) You can find out about every Nobel Prize Winner (interestingly, only 35 out of 800+ are women). Some of the award-winners.. it’s hard to understand how they devote their lives into researching things so trivial – like studying the eyes of fruit fries (discovered chromosomes, recessive genes). Of course, many discoveries have changed our lives, our health, our futures…

Kind’ve makes you rethink.. wow, what are my goals and troubles in life and where they measure up to. How insignificant some things then become. But of course, you can’t think on the bigger scale for everything…!

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. – Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune


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